“Only a surfer knows the feeling” is the famous line used by a famous surf company that pretty much captures it all. Even then, mention the idea of surfing to someone that has never done it – or even seen the ocean – and they’re still fascinated, still intrigued to know what it must be like.
Without getting all spiritual and going off on a tangent, it’s pretty magical and until you’ve given it a try, it is extraordinarily hard to describe just how good it is to feel the wave surge below, and to know that the board has the momentum and flow to allow you to stand up. Then to trim your way down a wall of water, to feel the mist and splash as you rock from rail to rail, racing the lip, taking in the power of the wave, using it and harnessing it, riding it out till all its energy has passed and you fall off the back, riding into flat water behind the wave. On a good day, you can have about six ‘last’ waves. It is like nothing else.
Surfing could never be accused of not being cool, but right now surfing and its essence – the basis of the original counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s – has made a return. Boards have shortened and expanded into the twin fins of yore or become plumper, thicker and longer in search of simplicity and ease. Attitudes have softened from the competitive and aggressive nature of the last 25 years into free surfing watermen and women interested in more than just slashing a wave to pieces. And the hope that the wave will still be there in 20 years and that the surf clothes we’re wearing aren’t damaging the very environment they promote have become high priorities.
Shops like Rhombus Surf Shop in Fitzroy have echoed these sentiments and are following in the impressive footsteps of Brooklyn’s Mollusk in giving surf to the city. Or vice versa.
The rise of the city surf shop and surfer is more than a culture gone mainstream, and in some ways is the very rejection of it. A few years back, mainstream surfers realised they had more than just a coastal market and they started opening stores in the CBD. This is no bad thing really, as anything that promotes the beach and the outdoors has to be good right? But it’s a shame to see so many mainstream surfers exhibiting hypocrisy in their practise, with a complete lack of environmental concern in regards to the manufacture of their products. The point is: we won’t have the outdoors if we continue like this.
This goes some way to explaining the ‘new surf’ culture, the new wave if you will. It’s a lot more sophisticated these days. It has grown up and matured and is a lot more considered. Surfers take their reference and lead from a wider and more varied pool of resources and this has given rise to the new surf shop, and a new surfer sub-culture. They are savvy, aware and well travelled; their search for the obscure, original and different has become the modus operandi. All of sudden small trends – like the short twin-fins of the 70s – have become the fixed gear bicycle of the surfing world. Old and retro shapers like Neal Purchase Jnr, Donald Takayama and Bob McTavish have found new relevance with this retro-focused sub-genre, their skills and techniques looked upon with fresh eyes and new appreciation.
You would be excused for thinking that stores like Rhombus are stalwarts of the halcyon days of counterculture surfing of the 70s, given their attitudes, board shapes, colour palette and requisite facial hair. But their minds are squarely in the present.
Angus Wilson, of Rhombus, returned to Melbourne from New York a few years ago to find his love for surfing wasn’t being fulfilled here. He decided to do something about it, but he didn’t want to compromise on the other things that mattered to him, the things that kept him in the city. He worked out what it is he loves about the sport, speaking with shapers, makers and providers, and earlier this year opened Rhombus Surf Shop on Brunswick Street.
Stocking great products – like Patagonia’s amazing wool-lined wetsuits and board shorts, Critical Slide Society board bags and Co-Lab sunglasses, plus a selection of the aforementioned board makers’ handiwork – Rhombus is equal parts cool hang out and surf provider. While leafing through their impressive quiver in back of store you quickly forget that 30 metres away is a 20-story housing commission building and a bustling inner-urban street.
Through people like Wilson, who don’t want to be pigeonholed by the surf companies that dominate the industry, surfing has changed. Nowadays a surfer is just as likely to be a lawyer as a tradesman and their representation is more in line with guys like Wilson. There are no defining qualities anymore except for their common love of the water.
Surfing has always had an uncanny ability to appeal to all. That famous slogan can only be explained once you have been surfing, but once you have you’re a part of something special. A simple nod, a knowing glance and endless conversations of the great waves that only ever seem to be possible in the good ol’ days become your raison d’etre.
And the more you understand the power of nature and the environment the better we all are. This is not an attempt to impart some faux spirituality or impose any ideals, but sometimes the ‘perfectness’ of our surroundings goes unnoticed, and to see and feel and to be in touch with this missing part of our lives is just what we need to feel a connection to something greater than ourselves.
Maybe it’s just because it puts a smile on our face and that’s simply enough.